"Aviation: Meeting Future Challenges Through Innovation"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Washington, DC
February 15, 2011

36th FAA Aviation Forecast Conference

Thank you, Julie (Oettinger). Good afternoon everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you and to hear from Deputy Secretary Porcari.

At this morning’s panels you heard some robust discussions about the future of the aviation industry. You talked about the experience of passengers and the innovation in aircraft technology.

This conference is about looking to the future. It’s about innovation. We need to keep our eyes on the demands that will face this airspace system. We need to prepare ourselves with technology and people.

And we are expecting growth. We are seeing increasing demand.

We have come out of the depths of the recession this year. Commercial carriers are returning to profitability. Business aviation shows signs of rebounding. And we’re projecting growth in general aviation sectors, particularly in the jet aircraft and light sport craft sectors.

Last year, despite a challenging economic environment, 713 million passengers flew on U.S. airlines. We expect to see stronger growth this year. We’re projecting an increase of 3.5 percent.

This forecast looks at how many planes and how many people will fly in the future – what will be the demand. We want to see a picture of air travel in the next 20 years, free from constraints. We want to know what we should strive to meet and conquer.

And the indications are, that we are growing towards a very historic milestone of carrying one billion passengers on U.S. airlines in the next decade.   

When you think about it, that’s an additional 300 million people that we’re forecasting we will carry.

That increase is roughly the size of the entire population of the United States – every man, woman and child.  

And, if you look to the end of the forecast, 20 years from now, we predict demand for 1.3 billion passengers.

From today’s level, that’s like adding the population of metro New York 30 times over.   

So where are we going to put them all?

The way we are going to embrace this growth is to embrace NextGen. We are in the process of transforming our national air space system from a ground-based radar system of today, to a satellite-based GPS system of tomorrow. From traditional airways to streamlined routes with optimized trajectories.

This is a fundamental change in the way the United States and the world will navigate and control air traffic. Precise, satellite-based navigation is already revolutionizing the way that we do business today. Technology is helping us to become safer, quieter, cleaner and more efficient with our assets.

That’s innovation.

To take advantage of the benefits of new technology that we have, we need planning; we need partnerships and we need commitment.

So while we have our eyes on the future, we already have our feet on the ground, making the future a reality.

Many airlines in this country today are seeing the benefits of NextGen.

Southwest Airlines is a good example. They started using GPS-based arrival procedures at a dozen airports last month.

They not only understand, but they are capturing the benefits of the system and are making an investment in the future. NextGen is simply good for business. A lot of carriers have done the math and see the business case. Southwest Airlines estimates it will save $60 million a year in fuel once it uses these procedures system wide in their network. We all benefit from fewer emissions and less delays.    

Alaska Airlines has already been a leader in using these procedures at Juneau International Airport since the mid-1990s.

Equipped aircraft can fly precisely through mountainous terrain with low visibility thanks to the higher accuracy of GPS.

The pinpoint precision means direct approaches to the airport that mean less fuel, less emissions and less noise.

Alaska Airlines estimates it would have cancelled 729 flights last year due to bad weather into Juneau alone if it were not for the GPS-based approaches. Those were passengers who got in. No diversions. No ground holds.  

Alaskaalso is joining the FAA, the Port of Seattle and Boeing, to further develop RNP procedures at Seattle Tacoma International Airport. That is part of our “Greener Skies over Seattle” initiative. That project should save literally millions of gallons of fuel annually, cut noise and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Southwest and Alaska Airlines are just some of the companies that are today saving money and offering better service through the innovations of NextGen.

Last month, we announced an agreement with JetBlue to adopt yet another NextGen technology.

We are partnering with that airline to equip up to 35 of their current fleet with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B.    

We’ve used this technology on helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico. Down there it saves five to 10 minutes a flight and 96 pounds of fuel each flight. That technology deployed in the Gulf has opened up 250,000 square miles of new, positively controlled airspace in the Gulf.  That was not possible with radar.

Under the JetBlue partnership, the airline will be able to take advantage of new NextGen routes from Boston and New York down to Florida and into the Caribbean. I would equate these routes to something not unlike HOV lanes off the coast. They bypass the congestion. JetBlue will use the new routes and benefit from more reliable arrival times.

In turn, JetBlue will share with us flight data, which is going to show us in detail how and where the GPS-based technology will help us save time, fuel and distance.

Companies that are equipping today with NextGen are reaping the benefits of innovation.

And we are committed to moving forward with more innovations.

We are committed to investing in our infrastructure so that we remain competitive in the global economy. 

The infrastructure of the future is going to have to be a marriage of NextGen procedures with our airports, runways, airlines and flight crews. This will expand the capacity and efficiency of our system.

And we have been busy also on the ground the last decade, building runways – building for growth. We built 16 new runways nationwide that remarkably provide the potential for two million more flight operations per year.

The Obama Administration plans to build on that momentum and do even more as we move forward.

As you heard from Deputy Secretary Porcari, President Obama’s budget strongly supports both the FAA and our endeavors in NextGen.

The president’s budget for 2012 requests a total of $18.7 billion for the FAA.

And of that amount, the president requests more than $1.2 billion for our NextGen programs.

That’s a 43 percent increase over the levels we had in 2010.

While we maintain and expand our traditional, fundamental facilities, we are laying the groundwork for the Next Generation infrastructure.

In 2012 we will reach several milestones. 

The budget requests $285 million for the ADS-B system. We areinstalling more than 800 ground transceiver stations nationwide. This makes up the ADS-B network. We plan to finish that work in 2013.  As you know, aircraft flying in controlled airspace will need to be equipped by 2020 with ADS-B Out.

The budget designates $200 million from the president’s $50 billion “Up-Front Boost” to accelerate applied research for NextGen, so we can stay on the forefront of the technology. We want to continue developing innovative programs to manage air traffic and provide better weather data to general aviation and commercial carriers alike.

And the budget requests $26 million to improve GPS-based precision approaches and departures – better known as RNAV-RNP – at airports across the country. That’s the actual procedures themselves.

As you know, we are working in a difficult budgetary environment. All federal budget spending will be scrutinized. That’s going to force all of us to do more with less.

That means we will prioritize even more as we go forward. We will carefully choose and deliver the technologies and programs that will help us improve safety. At the same time, we will emphasize efficiency. We will strive to decrease fuel burn and noise.

As we move forward – the FAA, the aviation industry and all stakeholders – must embrace the innovation and the payoff we’ll ultimately see in that investment.    

Delaying infrastructure investments means the long term cost to our system – to passengers and our environment  alike – will far exceed the cost of a timely deployment of the technology today.

So, as aviation continues to grow, and as those additional millions of passengers that we talked about start making reservations, we all need to move forward together in a partnership into the world of NextGen.